My name is Inca Mohamed, I am originally from the Caribbean but came to the US as a child. I have always been living between those two cultures.
In my early mid-20s, I was living in California, and my mother was still in Brooklyn. My mother, she would call me, and my partner at the time would answer the phone. So she got used to hearing a woman’s voice when she called. We never talked about it.
Every summer, I would come to visit my mother. So one summer I’m visiting her, probably ‘83-’84. And I am in the bedroom, and my mother’s in the bathroom. My mother is from Dominica, and her language is French-Creole. All of a sudden I hear my mother saying, “Tu aimes femmes!” And while I have forgotten most of my Creole, I did know what she was saying, and what she was saying was asking me, “You like women?”
And so I said, “Yes.”
And she came into the bedroom. At that time I defined myself as being bisexual. So I said to her, “Well, I also like men.”
Well, thanks to daytime TV, Oprah, I don’t know which show, she had learned the word bisexual. But the way she pronounced it was, “Oh, you’re a bi-check-sual.”
So I said, “Yes Mama, I am a bi-sexual.”
She then said to me, “Oh, I had done that when I was young.”
And I said, “Ah, I’m not surprised, I thought you had.”
So a few minutes later, she said to me, “Be careful, Inca. Those women carry knives.”
And again, you have to put this in the context. My mother was a very brave woman. In the 1930’s, she worked as a speculator. She would go to one island, buy things, got to another island, sell them… So she was — at a time when women were not moving around that independently, she was. And she also had a rum shop. Usually men frequent rum shops. So if a woman was going to go into a rum shop, I could see why she’d carry the knife.
Less worried about the fact that I was a lesbian, but probably more, what kind of women was I going to be around?
And so fast forward, it’s 1987, and I move back to New York, and I have a really wonderful lover. A woman named Bonita, who was an extremely kind and generous person. We lived down the block from my mother, so my mother would come over for Christmas dinner. So she got to see me with this incredibly loving, kind, generous woman. I was very happy to know that my mother knew that she didn’t have to worry about my safety anymore. And while some lesbians may still carry knives, my lover did not carry a knife.
And she was always — It was always a very funny experience for me, because I’d go, ‘Well, was it a hard thing for her to say, and is that why she had to say it in the tongue she was most comfortable, in her first language? Is that why she said it while she was in the bathroom, and I was in the bedroom?’
I mean, who knows? The point is that she did take the initiative, and she said it, and that created an opportunity for us to have a very open conversation about my life.